Apple iPhone 5s review: The best gets better

Apple iPhone 5s review: The best gets better

Summary: Apple's latest high end smartphone should always better than the last one and the iPhone 5s proves that with a better processor, improved camera, useful fingerprint scanner, and more.

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  • Apple iPhone 5s review

    Apple announced the iPhone 5s on 10 September and I Tweeted that I was going to skip it since I love my HTC One and didn't see the need for another smartphone. I visited my local T-Mobile store last week and walked out with a 32GB Apple iPhone 5s.

    Hardware

    Of course the new iPhone 5s is the best iPhone Apple ever made, just like every new high end iPhone Apple releases each year. The iPhone 5s is difficult to distinguish from last year's iPhone 5 so if you liked that hardware you will like this one as well.

    The iPhone 5s retains the 4 inch screen, which is quite small in comparison to Android and Windows Phones today. This was one area I was most apprehensive about and I do find text to be a bit small at times, but that may also be due to how light the fonts are in iOS 7. A reader pointed out I can change the font weight in the buried Accessibility options so it looks much better now.

    The display looks fantastic though and having a phone that is so pocketable is handy. Apple still rules in touch responsiveness and that is another refreshing aspect of using an iPhone.

    The new Touch ID home button is slick and works very well. I have programmed my two thumbs and an index finger to unlock my iPhone and it works nearly every time. In addition to unlocking the iPhone, it is very convenient for purchasing apps and I would love to see the ability to unlock websites with passwords or other apps, ewallet for example, via touch.

    You do not press down on the home button, just place your finger over it. My wife kept pressing down to try to unlock it and I showed her you just rest it on the home button and the ring around it reads your fingerprint data. The HTC One Max I tried required that you swipe your finger in a very specific manner and that sensor rarely worked.

    The new A7 chip is "future proof" due to the 64-bit architecture and I look forward to seeing what developers can do with it. Everything still flies on the iPhone and performance is outstanding.

    There is a new M7 motion coprocessor in the iPhone 5s that allows developers access to the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. Runkeeper and Nike Fuelband apps are currently available to take advantage of this coprocessor and allow your iPhone to capture data similar to what a life tracker captures.

    I ended up with a white/silver iPhone 5s since I wanted at least 32GB of storage. The front is white with the top and bottom back pieces being white plastic while the main part of the back is silver metal. The edges are beveled, like what HTC did with the One, and it really looks great.

    There is only a mono speaker on the iPhone 5s, but Apple did a fabulous job with it and it sounds great with loud volume. The speaker performance is one reason the iPhone 5s is staying and the Nexus 5 is going back today. A good speaker is important to me for podcasts and phone calls.

    Apple put an improved camera on the back that includes a new flash, called True Tone flash, tha adjust color and intensity for over 1,000 combinations. I am taking some comparison photos with other devices and so far like what I see in the iPhone 5s camera.

    In addition to the improved camera hardware with f/2.2 aperture and a larger sensor with 1.5 micro pixels, the iPhone 5s has software to capture burst mode and slow motion video. Android devices have had these capabilities for a while so it is nice to see Apple adding them on the iPhone.

    I like having a physical ringer switch too and the volume buttons on the iPhone 5s are easy to find and control.

    The battery has gotten me through long days, but is not a multi-day performer for my usage. It may get better over time as I manage my notifications and figure out what I really need running in the background. It is better than the Nexus 5 and there are plenty of charging options available for the iPhone 5s.

    Software

    The iPhone 5s includes iOS 7, which has been covered quite a bit here on ZDNet. I won't repeat all the details and recommend you check out ZDNet's article written by Zack Whittaker.

    I find the Control Center to be quite useful, LOVE the new webOS-like multi-tasking experience, enjoy the new notifications format, and am using Siri more and more every day.

    After talking about the iPhone 5s with Kevin Tofel on MobileTechRoundup show #309 I conducted tests between the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5 using the updated Google Now app on iOS and found repeatedly that the iPhone 5s offers up an even faster experience than the Nexus 5.

    The Google experience on iOS is arguably better than on Android. I have my email coming through the Gmail app, Google Now rocks with new hands-free search capability, and Google Maps performs very well too.

    Usage and experiences

    It's been a few months since I have had an iPhone and it honestly is refreshing to be back on iOS on a phone. I am very pleased with the touchscreen performance, speed and responsiveness of the device, speaker volume and clarity, camera functionality, and premium feel in my hand.

    The smaller display bothers me at times, but the fact that I get the latest 3rd party apps and services first on an iPhone makes up for that. This is partly due to Apple's control over their hardware, including their Bluetooth radios.

    Pros and Cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Apple iPhone 5S, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros

    • Very high quality hardware
    • Super fast performance
    • Latest and greatest apps and services
    • Good point and shoot camera replacement
    • Useful fingerprint scanner

    Cons

    • Battery life could be better, give me iPad-like performance
    • Display is small, by today's standards

    Pricing and availability

    Apple's iPhone products are expensive and the iPhone 5s starts at $199 for the 16GB with a 2-year contract up to $399 for the 64GB model with a 2-year contract.

    To gauge the real cost of the iPhone 5s, you have to look to T-Mobile or the unlocked versions. The 16GB model is priced at $649.91 with the 64GB model priced at $849.91. When you look at the 32GB Nexus 5 at $399, that seems like quite a deal compared to the 32GB iPhone 5s at $749.91.

    Availability varies, with most retail carrier stores carrying only the 16GB model in space gray or silver. There is an elusive gold model and higher capacities are generally available directly from Apple in 2-4 weeks. I lucked out and scored a 32GB model at my local T-Mobile store, but they only had two of them in the silver color.

    The competition

    I listed the competition in my top 10 smartphones for the 2013 holiday season post with the iPhone 5s in the number one position.

    The best Android phones are either the Note 3 (if you want a large device with stylus support) or the HTC One (fantastic design and latest OS). The Nokia Lumia 1020 competes in the camera department and there are plenty of other worthy Android devices, such as the Nexus 5, Moto X, Galaxy S4, and more. All are priced less than the iPhone 5s too.

    Specifications

    • iOS 7 operating system
    • Apple A7 64-bit processor with M7 motion coprocessor
    • 1GB RAM and 16/32/64GB flash storage memory options
    • 4 inch 1136x640 pixel resolution display at 326 ppi
    • 8 megapixel rear camera with True Tone flash and five element lens
    • 1.2 megapixel front facing camera
    • Fingerprint sensor under the home button
    • Estimated 1,570 mAh non-removable battery
    • 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 low energy
    • Sensors include proximity, accelerometer, finger print, and gyroscope
    • Dimensions of 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm and 112 grams (3.95 ounces)

    There is quite an assortment of cellular SKUs for the iPhone 5s. The one I bought at T-Mobile is the A1533 (GSM) model that covers all UMTS/HSPA+/GSM/LTE bands needed in the US and throughout most of the world. To understand all the intricacies of the wireless bands and benchmarking results, I recommend you check out the Anandtech detailed review.

    Conclusion

    The iPhone 5s looks like last year's iPhone 5 and even works with most all of those accessories. However, the improved internal processor, Touch ID implementation, and improvements to the camera make it a device to consider even if you already have an iPhone 5.

    It's an easy upgrade to make for 4s and earlier owners and may even bring over some Android users. I purchased one in large part because I am tired of seeing cools apps and services launching first on iOS and then not being able to test them until they come to Android. Android still doesn't have consistent radios and standards so many of them won't be getting support for services like Pebble or Fitbit.

    The smaller display bothers me a bit, but Apple's hardware is stunning and the trade-off for apps and functionality is worth it to me. If the iPhone 5s had a 4.3 to 4.7 display, an IR port for remote control capability, and Qi wireless charging then I would have given it a 10 out of 10.

    Contributor's rating: 9.5 out of 10

    Further reading

  • Back of the white/silver iPhone 5s

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iOS, iPhone, Reviews

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69 comments
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  • no wireless charging, no nfc, no kids mode

    proprietary cable, tiny screen, etc etc etc

    all it has going for it is the iTunes store
    everss02
    • everss02

      Enjoy your slow 32-bit world of yesterday!
      TimeForAChangeToBetter
      • 64 bit with less than 4 GB of RAM is useless!

        Only a gigabyte and that means there’s no point of having a 64-bit CPU and operating system since 64-bit is only effective when you have more than 4 gigabyte of physical memory!
        everinm
        • Lies

          Ever hear or faster execution of apps? If you did you would of realized your follow up comment is bogus.
          TimeForAChangeToBetter
        • You should really do some basic research

          Before making such claims. 64-bit processing in a CPU is about much more than the amount of physical memory.
          Smalahove
          • Bells and whistles- 1GB ram & 64bit proc

            Where is the true multi tasking.
            sickntired44
          • No

            Not in this CPU it isn't! In fact, I would argue that it isn't even true 64bit in most desktop and tablet processors.

            Oh and 32bit is actually slower on CPUs with 64bit extensions.

            As for Matt Miller, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Funniest title in years but, the iPhone is not now and uS never been the best simply because it runs iOS and until that changes it isn't even in the running.
            slickjim
      • silly children, wowed by apple buzz words

        why stop at 64 bit, why not a 128 or 256 bit cpu, just as worthless media gimmick


        now go rub your iPhone button kids
        everss02
      • On a tablet perhaps, but a tiny little mobile .......

        So useful for err... playing games on your little phone with the tiny little, invariable cracked, medium resolution screen.

        64 bit only really comes into play when you have the RAM and the screen real estate to make use of it, other than that it is largely a marketing gimmick.
        AndyMills6464
    • NFC is yesterday's stillborn technolody, Bluetooth 4.0/LE is the winner

      No need to bump phone to anything at 1"-2" distances, as it supports 50 feet or something, and yet it super low-power.
      DDERSSS
      • ???

        you don't get the uses of nfc at all.
        everss02
      • NFC does not compete with Bluetooth

        With NFC there is no need to pair and connect to another device, like you do with Bluetooth. When you share something using NFC the connection is automatically temporarily enabled for a short time, and when the sharing is done, the connection is destroyed.

        Obviously it serves a very different purpose than Bluetooth so they are not competing technologies. Why Apple refuses to incorporate it (among other things) is beyond me.
        vincewansink
      • not the same

        You are comparing apples to oranges
        AndyMills6464
        • Apples to Androids

          You're comment made me laugh.....in a good way.
          Darth-Vador
      • Huh?

        I think you were stillborn.
        slickjim
        • Not too slick...

          for a slickjim. Self proclaimed sick, I assume.
          kstap
          • EDIT

            Self proclaimed slick, I assume.
            kstap
    • @eversso2

      "no wireless charging," - What device other than the Palm device that is no longer made has native wireless charging?

      "no nfc," - And what exactly is NFC used for that makes it in demand? How many people actually USE NFC? I haven't nor have I seen anyone use it.

      "no kids mode" - And? I can see the lack of kids mode being an issue on a tablet but honestly not a phone.

      "proprietary cable," - Yeah that one I'll give you with the proviso that the proprietary cabe can be plugged in either direction and the phone still charge and sync. No other cable does that.

      "tiny screen," - That is a matter of opinion. I certainly do not need the screen size of the Note series for my phone... I'm old not blind.

      "etc etc etc" - Please elaborate. What is this etc etc etc you refer to?

      "all it has going for it is the iTunes store" - It has more than that going for it but your obvious Apple hatred blinds you to that fact. If you chose not to buy an iPhone that is your decision but stop with the FUD.
      athynz
      • stop living in 2007 appleland

        "no wireless charging," -pretty much all nokia and Samsung phones have wireless charging standard

        "no nfc," - how could u see this if using apple? never tap to pay, tap to share a contact, picture or video, nfc tags in your car or gym to launch modes

        "no kids mode" so your solution is to buy a tablet???? no, my phone does all my tablet needs , I'll just swipe into kids mode and had to my 6 or 4 year nephew with zero worries


        "proprietary cable," syncing? you are lost in 2007, who would ever need to plug a phone in, wifi exists and buying songs or vids and saving to a device has gone the way of the dodo bird

        "tiny screen," it is tiny, every time I see an iPhone it's still shocking how small it is, but hey 13" TV's must be all u have in your house yet I guess

        "etc etc etc" basically having to use an app do to anything, so outdated and childish, apple needs hubs

        People don't hate apple, they just know it's not 2007 anymore and they aren't the best anymore, far from it
        everss02
        • everss02

          I see you are into the buzzwords there, but that is about it.
          TimeForAChangeToBetter